The acquisition of the site

Pages 6-13

Survey of London Monograph 17, County Hall. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1991.

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In this section

CHAPTER II. The Acquisition of the Site

The London County Council's first headquarters, inherited from the Metropolitan Board of Works, was its predecessor's board-room and offices in Spring Gardens, off Trafalgar Square (Plate 2a). Erected in 1861, on land leased from the Crown, this building had been designed for the MBW by its Superintending Architect, Frederick Marrable. (fn. 1) It was extended in 1878, to accommodate the growing staff of the MBW, but even so, was too small for the needs of the LCC. The board-room seated only fortyfive, while average attendance at LCC meetings was eighty or ninety, and Members spilled over into the space formerly reserved for deputations to the MBW. (fn. 2) The strangers' gallery could hold only forty visitors and the LCC, mindful of the criticism levelled against its predecessor for secrecy, (fn. 3) wished to provide adequate space for both public and press.

The LCC solved these difficulties in the short term by deciding to meet at Guildhall, as the MBW itself had done in its early days. (fn. 4) However, one of the drawbacks of the City Corporation's relatively new Council Chamber — designed by Horace Jones in 1884 – was that, although there was enough space for the Members, the press were, in Rosebery's words, 'perched up in a gallery somewhere in the dome ... absolutely unable to hear any portion of our proceedings'. (fn. 5)

The problem for the LCC was not simply one of finding an adequate meeting place. Its Members were concerned, too, about accommodation for the growing numbers of staff, and also about the question of their public image. The comparison was inevitably drawn between traditional City splendour and the modest accommodation of the new County authority. This contrast was underlined by the cartoonists, and neatly summed up by Lord Farrer (1819– 99) – an Alderman who had been a prominent supporter of the Municipal Reform League – in a letter to The Times in 1890:

Let our elder sister, dignified by age, flattered by the Press, and courted by society, give the entertainments to the Shah of Persia ... But until the good fairy, Mr. Ritchie [President of the Local Government Board], shall fuse our households, let poor Cinderella have, at the least, a well lighted and well ventilated scullery of her own, in which she can wash her plates and peel her potatoes for her mob of vulgar but hungry guests. (fn. 6)

Some Members thought that any plans at all for building a new County Hall were a most extravagant proposition, and this split between those who wanted to build and those who did not was to remain until the Council was so far committed to a particular scheme that to retreat would have been more expensive than to go on.

The question of staff accommodation was a pressing one. Lack of space at Spring Gardens meant that Council staff were working in a number of scattered sites: in 1892 they occupied six different buildings. According to Sir John Lubbock, the LCC's second Chairman, several of these were 'very ill-suited for the purpose', and he urged the building of a new headquarters 'not only in the interest of efficiency, but of economy also'. By 1904 the staff was scattered through twenty-five separate blocks of buildings costing more than £34,000 per annum. (fn. 7) It became an LCC ambition, though one never fully realized, to house all central administrative staff on one site.

Early in 1889, shortly after the first LCC election, the Council appointed a Council Chamber and Offices Committee both to study the want of space at Spring Gardens and to solve the problems caused by the inadequate and scattered Council accommodation. (fn. 8) The pressing need, recognized by all, was for a bigger Council Chamber and extra committee rooms. These were provided in plans prepared by the Council's Architect, Thomas Blashill, which the Committee submitted to the Council in July 1889 (fig. 1). (fn. 9) Despite some opposition, a contract for the alterations, at a cost of £9,000, was signed in August 1889, and the Council's first meeting in the enlarged chamber took place on 22 April 1890 (Plate 2b). (fn. a) (fn. 10)

A clause empowering the Council to raise a rate for the erection of a new headquarters had been inserted in the LCC Money Bill in 1889, yet choosing a suitable site and then selecting a design for the new building were to concern the Council for the next twenty years. The proposals and negotiations were often confused and decisions difficult to reach, not least because there was no clear division between the two emerging party groups on the Council on the matter. It can be said that the Moderates took an apparently conservative line on finance, and wished to limit the ruling Progressive Party's alleged tendency to extravagance with ratepayers' money, but the expression of Members' opinions and support was often individual, not to say idiosyncratic, rather than a strict following of party lines. Even a socialist like John Burns, the Member for Battersea, could appeal to his fellow Members 'to take an Imperial and Metropolitan view'. (fn. 11)

Fig. 1. Old County Hall, Spring Gardens, headquarters of the LCC from 1889–1922. Plan of the first floor, c. 1905, showing the former Board Room of the Metropolitan Board of Works extended (beyond the dotted line) to create a horseshoe-shaped Council Chamber for the LCC, with Public Galleries over. Entrances to Ayes and Noes Lobbies (A, N) were provided either side of the Chairman's Dais, with a Press Gallery above.
a area, C Clerk, Ch Chairman, CR Committee Room, E Engineer, L Lobby

The Search for a New Site

The task of finding a site was initially entrusted to the Council Chamber and Offices Committee, which was reformed after the 1892 election as the Establishment Committee. Towards the end of the decade the work was delegated to a Special Sub-Committee of the Establishment Committee. A considerable number of sites were considered before one on the Surrey side of the Thames was eventually chosen. As on all such occasions, the suggestions ranged from the practical to the fantastic, but they are worth reviewing briefly for the light they throw both on the attitudes and methods of Council Members and on conditions in London at the time.

The proposals included many historic or difficult sites available for re-development in the changing London of the 1890s. Those considered included the river-front site of Millbank Prison (where the Tate Gallery now stands), (fn. 12) Christ's Hospital, Barnard's Inn, St Paul's Churchyard, Newgate Prison, (fn. 13) and one on the Victoria Embankment between Horse Guards Avenue and New Scotland Yard. They were all in some way unsuitable – too small, too expensive or not sufficiently central. (fn. 14)

In 1893 the Committee reported that a possible site had been found on the west side of Parliament Street between Great George Street and (King) Charles Street (on which the New Government Offices, now occupied by the Treasury, were later built). It was recommended as the best site which had been considered so far, but was rejected, partly because some Members, including Lord Rosebery, did not like the idea of council offices close to the Houses of Parliament, although others were attracted by the idea. (fn. 15)

Meanwhile, pressure upon the existing accommodation continued to grow and the Council had to acquire offices in a number of buildings. (fn. 16) A possible solution was a further extension of the site in Spring Gardens. In June 1896 the Establishment Committee, under the chairmanship of the Moderate, Melvill Beachcroft (1846– 1926), reported on a site between Spring Gardens and Trafalgar Square, including the Council's existing offices (fig. 2). The scheme that was proposed was not wholly popular, chiefly because the site was small, just under two acres, and costly. This was partly because of the length of important street frontages, which required expensive façades. Despite its cost, it attracted a lot of Moderate support, and the Council approved it. (fn. 17)

Parliamentary powers to acquire the land were sought during the 1897 session. That this too was not a strict party issue can be seen by the fact that the Bill's Second Reading in the Commons was moved by the Liberal M.P. and LCC Moderate, C. A. Whitmore (Alderman 1895– 1901), and its rejection moved by another LCC Moderate, E. Boulnois (Member 1889–1901). The Bill also had several powerful petitioners against it, including the Duke of Devonshire, who lived nearby in Carlton House Terrace. It was defeated on its Second Reading. (fn. 18)

Another idea for a new County Hall was prompted by plans for a memorial to Queen Victoria. When it was suggested that the proposed 'memorial way' – The Mall — should terminate in a triumphal arch opening on to Trafalgar Square, Captain George Swinton (1859–1937), a future Chairman of the LCC, took up the cudgels (Plate 46b). He was one of the most remarkable Members of the Council at that time, and influenced its development in several important ways. (fn. b) Well connected – his father being a Berwickshire landowner, and his mother the daughter of Sir George Sitwell of Renishaw – he was elected to the LCC in March 1901 as a Moderate and sat on the Establishment Committee from 1905 to 1909 – critical years for the new County Hall design. (fn. 19)

Fig. 2. Old County Hall, Spring Gardens. Block plan, c. 1902, showing the additional buildings occupied by LCC staff in the vicinity. The proposals for The Mall in 1902 led Captain George Swinton to suggest building the new County Hall on the site where the Admiralty Arch (1910) now stands

In a letter to The Times in May 1901, Swinton argued that 'nothing could be more unfortunate' than the idea of an 'arc de triomphe' at the end of The Mall. What was needed was 'a fine façade, high enough to make a terminal to the memorial way at one end as effectually as Buckingham Palace at the other', and herein lay an opportunity to build a new LCC headquarters spanning The Mall. He pointed out that though the LCC Members wished to remain on the Spring Gardens site, it was so small, cramped and awkward as to make this impossible, but that this could be remedied by his scheme, when everything between Carlton House Terrace and the Admiralty would be swept away. Would it not be possible, he asked, to combine upon this enlarged area, 'in one harmonious whole, three things, the terminal to the memorial way, the exits for the through traffic, and the County-hall?' He went on to describe the wonderful architectural result that might be expected, at no ruinous price, as grand as the LCC could possibly require, while even the most ambitious of the advocates of municipal progress could hardly say that one face to 'the finest site in Europe', the other to the King's Palace, was not sufficient for the dignity of those 'whom the electors of London delighted to honour'. (fn. 20) Despite Swinton's advocacy this scheme came to nothing, and the idea of rebuilding on the Spring Gardens site gradually faded, though the old building actually remained in Council occupation until after the Second World War.

Other sites under consideration included the Holborn to Strand Improvement Scheme area (now Kingsway), Lincoln's Inn Fields, and the Royal Aquarium, Westminster. (fn. 21) However, nothing definite was done to promote any one of these locations, all of which were rather small and expensive. The Kingsway site was only on the list because it was an LCC development which was proving difficult to let. When the Council planned their Improvement Scheme in 1899, the Special Sub-Committee, which had taken over the search for a site from the Establishment Committee, suggested that the Council should take advantage of that development and incorporate their offices in it. However, the estimated cost of the Aldwych Crescent island site was £2,400,000, and proved too great for the Council to acquire for itself. (fn. 22)

The end of July 1902 saw the penultimate in the long line of suggested sites presented to the Council. The Adelphi was for sale, at a cost of £900,000. Its position on the Embankment between Somerset House and the Houses of Parliament was very suitable for an important public building, while the presence of County Hall there would in turn reinforce the claim of the Embankment to be the recognized quarter for such buildings. Some Council Members felt that the time was coming to an end when large sites in central London would be available for development, and that this could be the last opportunity to obtain a central site of large dimension facing the river. (fn. 23)

There was opposition to this scheme on the general grounds used against several of the others – that the expense would not be justified by savings in annual rental, that the present buildings were adequate, and that the new site would anyway accommodate fewer staff than the Council currently employed. One Member raised the further point that the Historical Records Committee would certainly oppose the destruction of the Adam buildings, and another objected that any building on this site would be overshadowed by 'such a hideous monstrosity as Charing Cross Station'. (fn. 24)

More imaginative, if hardly practical, were some of the suggestions emanating from outside official circles. In 1900 the architects N. S. Joseph, Son, & Smitham suggested building the new County Hall actually in the Thames, straddling old Waterloo Bridge. (fn. 25) Another proposal placed the building on an island opposite Charing Cross Station. (fn. 26) In 1904 an electrical engineer by the name of Alfred R. Bennett recommended the construction of a new bridge near the Temple, which would carry not only trams, carriages and foot traffic, but also a massive hall for the LCC. (fn. 27) Widely reported at the time, Bennett's scheme was illustrated as a Gothic building of considerable vulgarity (together with a Renaissance-style alternative). The Architect & Contract Reporter commented that it would 'blot out what is left of the perspective of the Thames with the callousness of a railway company', but was not worried about its chances of success since the LCC would 'never accept inspiration from outside sources'. (fn. 28)

Bennett's idea appeared when the Council was on the point of selecting a site on the south of the river, which although mooted several times in the previous decade, had not hitherto been formally put forward by the Committee.

The Choice of the South Bank Site

The LCC's involvement with the South Bank started in 1893, with the acquisition for its Works Department of Bartram's Wharf, Belvedere Road, latterly in the hands of timber merchants who had gone bankrupt. (fn. 29) The freehold belonged to the Ecclesiastical (now Church) Commissioners, who were prepared to grant the Council a three-year lease at £1,500 per annum, with the option to purchase at any time during the tenancy for £39,000. (fn. 30) In March the Council approved the acquisition of this site, later known as No. 23 Belvedere Road, which had an area of some one-and-a-half acres and a river frontage of about 205 feet. The existing buildings included sawmills, workshops, and stables. (fn. 31) These were mostly rebuilt in 1895, at which time a river wall was also constructed, adding just under half an acre to the site.

It might have been expected that this purchase would have alerted the Council to the possibility of acquiring a large but relatively inexpensive site on the Surrey side of the Thames. In fact, this seems not to have been the case. The first person to suggest placing the County Hall south of the river was Lord Farrer, during a Council debate in 1896, though he did not specify the Belvedere Road site. (fn. 32) Two years later another Member, J. D. Gilbert (1864– 1946), (fn. c) suggested a site at Westminster Bridge, as part of a project for an embankment on the south side of the Thames from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge, to be used either for an investment in commercial property or as a site for a new County Hall. The motion did not find even a seconder, (fn. 34) and another four years were to pass before this idea was again brought forward.

In the autumn of 1902 the Moderate Alfred Cohen drew attention to the advantages of the Lambeth site in a letter circulated to his fellow LCC Members. After summarizing the many objections to the Adelphi site, then under consideration, and, indeed, questioning the whole idea of centralized offices, he pointed out that if the Council was determined on a new building a four-acre site was available on the south bank of the Thames, between Westminster Bridge Road and the Works depot, which the Valuer thought could be purchased for £650,000. At a further cost of about £21,000 for the construction of an embankment wall in line with that of St Thomas's Hospital, and an estimated £10,000 payable to the Thames Conservators for the right to reclaim foreshore land, 1. 3 acres could be added. (fn. d) Thus a total area of 5.4 acres would be acquired for £681,000. The Adelphi site of 3. 35 acres would cost more and provide less accommodation. Cohen urged that the Lambeth site be considered 'on grounds of economy, of beauty, and of great convenience of access'. (fn. 35) He was supported by Swinton, who thought that not only could the site house the whole of the Council's staff, but also that 'it would do an immense amount of good to the people of South London to have a fine municipal building placed among them'. (fn. 36)

Swinton's remark points to an LCC inheritance from the Metropolitan Board of Works which extended to much more than their Spring Gardens headquarters. The great crusade of improvement was strongly alive within the LCC, and the South Bank was now perceived as an area long wanting reconstruction. The embanking of the river upstream from Westminster Bridge and the building of St Thomas's Hospital had been a start, and showed what possibilities there were for improvement along the South Bank downstream from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars.

No steps were taken to follow up either the Gilbert or the Cohen suggestion for several years, however. Yet the need for new and centralized offices was made more urgent by the passing in 1903 of the Education (London) Act, which gave control of the capital's education to the LCC and increased its office staff by nearly a third. In February 1904 the Council was forced to lease Nos. 56–60 The Strand. (fn. 37)

A number of late Victorian town planners had put forward schemes for the south bank of the Thames, (fn. e) including the architect Arthur Cawston (1857–93). In a massive work suggesting a series of Haussmann-like improvements, he pointed out that the American tourist's first dispiriting view of London was from Waterloo Station, and his proposal for improving this included a new Waterloo Bridge and a new embankment with the re-location of Billingsgate Market opposite the Victoria Embankment. (fn. 38)

One of the most intriguing and comprehensive of these schemes appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette, and was said to be under consideration by the Council. The architect, Charles Mallows (1864–1914), suggested embanking the south side of the Thames between Westminster and London Bridges, and rebuilding the area behind as far back as Belvedere Road, Stamford Street and Southwark Street as 'a monumental terrace of public and other buildings to balance in architectural effect those on the other side'. He suggested that river-based industry should be re-located in a series of basins or canals behind the new buildings, entered from the river by means of locks. These strikingly ambitious proposals remain one of the most thoughtful town planning schemes for the area. (fn. 39)

While some saw the South Bank in visionary terms, others thought only that it was the wrong side of the river and an expensive place to build, if cheap to buy. Under the heading 'Offices for the L.C.C. – An Almost Hopeless Search', the Westminster Gazette interviewed Melvill Beachcroft in November 1904. This article gave a fair summary of the predicament, and showed clearly the hardening attitude of the Moderates towards high rates, which was now becoming that party's main weapon against the ruling Progressives. For Beachcroft a central site was out of the question, and he included the Adelphi in that judgement since it would have involved an outlay of £3,000,000, which, with interest rates at their current level, would have meant an annual liability of £75,000, more than twice what the Council were paying in rent at Spring Gardens. Beachcroft was no more optimistic about a site on the Surrey side of the river, where the land would be cheaper, but the building would cost much more because of the expensive foundations needed owing to the nature of the ground. (fn. 40)

In the event, it became obvious that the foundation problem had been greatly exaggerated by opponents of the South Bank scheme, including Beachcroft, for the raft foundation constituted only about seven per cent of the final site cost, including the expense of embanking. Amongst the various other charges was a payment to the Thames Conservators of £15,330. (fn. 41) Nevertheless, the South Bank site remained a relatively cheap solution, as a comparison with the other three major contenders shows: (fn. 42)

Date proposal submitted to the Council Location Cost £ Acre-age Approx cost per acre £
27 June 1893 Parliament Street 750,000 333,333
14 July 1896 Spring Gardens 813,000 2 406,500
22 July 1902 Adelphi 900,000 3⅓ 270,000
18 April 1905 Belvedere Road 600,000 5½ net 111,110

On 18 April 1905 the Council was presented with a definite scheme for what came to be known as the Belvedere Road site, stretching from Westminster Bridge on the south to the LCC Works Department on the north, with a river frontage of about 1,200 feet. Unlike some other sites considered by the Establishment Committee, this one was large enough to hold the whole of the Council's central staff while having room in hand for expansion. The cost of building, including that of embanking, was put at only £1,100,000. The area's rather run-down character, however, did not appeal to all Council Members. Andrew Torrance, the Progressive Member for East Islington, called the site 'cheap and nasty, unsavoury and inaccessible', and quite unworthy of the dignity of a body like the Council. John Burns, on the other hand, saw it as an opportunity to 'lighten up a dull place, sweeten a sour spot, and for the first time bring the south of London into a dignified and beautiful frontage on the River Thames'. (fn. 43) The Establishment Committee recommended the Council to authorize them to proceed with the purchase of the site. In spite of a delaying amendment, proposed by H. P. Harris and seconded by Beachcroft, intended 'to avoid placing undue burdens on the ratepayers', the Council approved the recommendation by 83 votes to 21. (fn. 44)

The land the Council wanted was divided into three freeholds and a total of eleven tenancies. Of the freeholders, Simmonds and Morten and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were prepared to sell, but Lambeth Borough Council was reluctant to do so. Although the negotiations to acquire the freehold of the Lambeth site proved to be protracted, there was no difficulty regarding a tenancy, for the land was occupied by the borough's own Works Department. The buildings along Westminster Bridge Road were occupied by small businesses and no problems were anticipated in obtaining possession, but the three tenancies on the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' land were more substantial, and the Council could be less certain of the tenants' willingness to leave. There was always the possibility that some tenants would not go by choice, and so application was made to Parliament for powers of compulsory purchase.

Ultimately, six petitions against the Council's Bill were presented in the House of Commons. The petitioners were the Conservators of the River Thames, Crosse & Blackwell, Peter Brotherhood, Holloway Brothers, the Borough of Lambeth, and the National Telephone Company. The telephone company did not occupy premises on the site but was worried that the works, involving the relocation of many of their cables, would be an unjustified interference with their customers' rights. Apart from the building firm of Holloway Brothers, who fought hard to remain on their site, the petitioners' objections were technical, designed to secure concessions or compensation rather than to prevent the Council from acquiring the land. (fn. 45)

The Council was able to demonstrate that some of the petitioners were making unreasonable claims, and reached agreement with others. The Bill was given its Second Reading on 13 March 1906, having been steered through the Commons by the Liberal M.P. and LCC Progressive Member, Sir Edwin Cornwall. When it was presented in the Lords only one petitioner remained – Holloway Brothers. A compromise was eventually arrived at and the Bill was given Royal Assent on 20 July 1906.

The South Bank Site

Once the decision was taken to build County Hall on the South Bank site negotiations were begun to purchase the properties. Their acquisition was to take some time; not until 1 January 1909 was possession of all of the freeholds obtained and settlement with some of the tenants of the premises in Westminster Bridge Road was not reached until 1911. In addition to the main site, the Council also decided to buy and demolish the buildings on the east side of Belvedere Road in order to widen the road, improving the approach to County Hall.

The short description of the County Hall site in volume xxiii of the Survey of London dealt mainly with its early history. That account is amplified here and a plan showing the freehold ownerships and the tenancies is given on page 12 (fig. 3). Some of the buildings and structures which stood on the site are shown in Plates 2c-d, 3a-b and 6a.

Simmonds and Morten's Property

The southernmost and smallest of the three separate freeholds was an area of 0.426 acres with a frontage to Westminster Bridge Road, once known as Float Mead. The owners were John Whately Simmonds and Frederick Morten, who had bought the property in 1881 for £38,000. Along Westminster Bridge Road were shops and houses dating from the middle of the eighteenth century, and the well-known Coronet public house (Plate 3b). They were held on seven tenancies, mostly on leases for 21 years from 1902, determinable by either party after 7 or 14 years. (fn. 46) Behind these buildings rose the substantial six-storey bulk of the Westminster Bridge Flour Mills (Plate 2c). This building was vacant and, to prevent the creation of a new interest, the LCC itself took the property for the remaining two years of the lease, using it as a stationery store for the Clerk's Department. (fn. 47) The LCC quickly came to a preliminary agreement with Simmonds and Morten and bought the freehold in October 1906 for £90,000. (fn. 48)

Property of the Lambeth Borough Council

The ground immediately to the north of Simmonds and Morten's property belonged to Lambeth Borough Council. This was an area of 1.032 acres, long known as Pedlar's Acre, which had been given to Lambeth parish sometime before 1639. (fn. 49) It included the sites of Acre and Vestry Wharves and of Nos. 3–9 (odd) Belvedere Road. For most of the nineteenth century the southern part of this land was leased by the engineering firm of Maudslay Sons & Field who used it for the construction of iron ships and the fitting of steam engines to hulls – the work for which the firm was perhaps most famous. Maudslays occupied this site until they became bankrupt in 1899. (fn. 50) In the following year Lambeth Council took possession of the ground for its Works Department. Maudslay's main building on the site was of considerable engineering interest as an early example of a 'masted' structure (Plate 6a). (fn. 51) It was demolished by the LCC in the summer of 1909.

Lambeth Council were, naturally enough, unhappy about the LCC's plans to displace them. They opposed the London County Buildings Bill in the House of Commons and put in a claim of £179,138 for the freehold and compensation. The settlement finally went to arbitration in 1909, when Lambeth were awarded £81,342. (fn. 52)

The Estate of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners

By far the largest piece of land bought by the LCC belonged to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. This was an area of 2.542 acres comprising Bishop's Acre and part of a larger piece called The Four Acres, on which lay Soho Wharf, Belvedere Wharf and Nos. 15 and 17 Belvedere

Fig. 3. The County Hall site in 1905. Plan showing the names of the properties acquired and existing occupiers. The northern boundary of Holloway Brothers' property was the limit of the County Hall site. The freehold owners were: A Simmonds and Morten (Float Mead); B Lambeth Borough Council (Pedlar's Acre); C Ecclesiastical Commissioners (Bishop's Acre and part of the Four Acres)

Road. The Commissioners' willingness to sell the freehold was the key to the whole site. Because the Commissioners also owned land on the east side of Belvedere Road, much of which was later bought by the Council, some time was spent negotiating a covenant to restrict the height of the LCC's proposed building and ensure an acceptable width for Belvedere Road. The Council purchased the site in 1906 for £125,000, excluding legal costs. (fn. 53)

The property was held under lease by three separate tenants. At the southern end, occupying 0.54 acres, was Crosse & Blackwell's jam and pickle factory. This had been built for the firm in 1882–3, to designs by Roumieu & Aitchison, and comprised warehouses, manufacturing premises and offices ranged around a central courtyard. The six-storey riverside and four-storey Belvedere Road elevations were composed of red brick with red-terracotta dressings (Plates 2c-d, 3a). (fn. 54) Crosse & Blackwell had a 999–year lease from Christmas 1896 at an annual rent of £1,246. They accepted £50,000 for their lease and £50,000 for fixtures, plus costs. They were allowed to remain as tenants until Lady Day 1908. (fn. 55)

North of Crosse & Blackwell and occupying 0.78 acres was the engineering firm of Peter Brotherhood, manufacturers of torpedo engines, who had a 79–year lease from 1897 at £1,300 per annum. Their site incorporated part of a yard lately occupied by Lucas Brothers, the builders. Brotherhood's premises were purpose-built, having been erected in 1881–2 to the designs of Hunt & Stewart. (fn. 56) After some attempts to relocate themselves on the Thames they moved to Peterborough, having received a total of £65,000 for the remainder of their lease and fixtures. (fn. 57)

The most determined opposition to the LCC came from Holloway Brothers, the builders, who occupied the northern end of the site. Known as Victoria Wharf, this area had previously formed the northern, and larger part of Lucas Brothers' yard.

Founded in Battersea in 1882, the firm of Holloway Brothers had enjoyed great success from the start. They agreed to take the lease of Victoria Wharf in 1889, but Lucas Brothers continued in possession until c. 1896 and Holloways' occupation began in 1899. Theirs was one of the most sophisticated builder's yards in London, and the brothers took pride in the fact that many architects and other builders came to study and admire the works. Henry Holloway, one of the partners, described them as 'a model of what a builder's works should be'. The elevations were provided by the architects Read & Macdonald, several of whose buildings were erected by Holloways. (fn. 58)

Holloways was the only petitioner against the Bill to pursue its action through to the House of Lords. Their complaint is a familiar one in the history of compulsory purchase, a feeling that no payment could compensate for the upheaval and the loss of premises in a convenient and prominent position. Indeed, one of their chief reasons for wishing to retain the site was that the company's name, painted large on their works, was clearly visible to everybody coming across Westminster Bridge. Another of their claims was that the site was located in the 'building centre' of London. This was disputed, but contained an element of truth, for that section of the riverfront had long been occupied by a succession of stonemasons and builders, including the firm of George Myers. (fn. 59)

Holloways held out for reinstatement on a site in Belvedere Road with equal river frontage to their existing site, a virtual impossibility unless the LCC were to give up their Works Department land. Compromise was reached when the Council agreed to insert a clause into the Bill guaranteeing that Holloways 'should not without their consent be disturbed in the possession of their premises until three years after the date of service of notice to treat, and that they could have free access to their premises by road and by river so long as they were in occupation'. In 1908 an arbitrator awarded the firm £46,862 for its site, plant and fittings, and compensation of £50,512. (fn. 60)

The purchase of the premises on the east side of the Belvedere Road cost the Council a further £50,000. Legal and arbitration costs and a number of payments made to compensate those whose livelihoods were disrupted added to the final bill. The total cost to the Council of the acquisition of the site was later assessed at £617,032, only slightly more than the Valuer's 1905 estimate of £600,000. (fn. 61)


  • a. This group portrait is symbolic rather than historically correct. It was painted in 1907–8 by H. Jamyn Brooks and shows the enlarged Council Chamber, but includes Aldermen and Members who had by then retired or died.
  • b. Swinton wrote several books on town planning, dealing with traffic problems and related architectural issues like the Charing Cross Bridge project. Chief Whip of the Moderate, later Municipal Reform, Party 1903–12, he was made Chairman of the LCC in 1912 but resigned to become Chairman of the Town-planning Committee of New Delhi.
  • c. Gilbert was one of two brothers who were LCC Members at the same time but sat on opposite sides. J. D. was a Progressive and an agnostic, the other, John, was a Municipal Reformer and an ardent Roman Catholic. It is said that they never spoke to each other.
  • d. In LCC records the acre is used as the measure of land area, but decimal notation is used when dealing with parts of an acre.
  • e. Between Westminster and Waterloo Bridges the Thames runs north-south, so that the 'south bank' at this point is in fact the east bank.
  • 1. Survey of London, vol. xx, 1940, pp. 66–7.
  • 2. The Times, 1 Feb. 1889, p. 9b; 6 Sept. 1889 (Letter from W. M. Acworth), p. 9f.
  • 3. David Owen, The Government of Victorian London, 1982, pp. 159–61, 170.
  • 4. Ibid., pp. 41–2.
  • 5. The Times, 22 March 1889, p. 4e.
  • 6. Ibid., 25 Jan. 1890, p. 8a.
  • 7. The Fortnightly Review, Feb. 1892, p. 172: LCC Mins, 6 Dec. 1904, p. 3021 (37).
  • 8. LCC/MIN/12,626, 4 March 1889.
  • 9. The Times, 10 July 1889, p. 8b: LCC/MIN/12,626, 14,29 March 1889: LCC Mins, 9 July 1889, p. 544 (9).
  • 10. The Times, 23 April 1890, p. 10e: LCC Mins, 2 Aug. 1889, p. 674 (6); 27 Oct. 1908, p. 717 (7/1).
  • 11. The Times, 19 April 1905, p. 12a.
  • 12. LCC/MIN/12,626, 28 June 1889.
  • 13. Ibid., 31 Jan. 1890.
  • 14. LCC Mins, 4 July 1893, pp. 694–8 (7).
  • 15. Ibid., 4 July 1893, p. 698: The Times, 5 July 1893, p. 13b.
  • 16. The Times, 28 June 1893, p. 12d; 2 Aug. 1893, p. 11g.
  • 17. LCC Mins, 14 July 1896, p. 807 (7).
  • 18. Ibid., 2 March 1897, p. 224 (16).
  • 19. Who Was Who, vol. iii, 1929–40: The Times 18 Jan. 1937, p. 14d.
  • 20. Who Was Who, vol. iii, 1929–40: The Times, 2 May 1901, p. 7b.
  • 21. LCC/MIN/12,740, 11 May 1900 (3).
  • 22. The Times, 28 Nov. 1900, p. 8b.
  • 23. Ibid., 21 July 1902, p. 3e.
  • 24. Ibid., 15 Oct. 1902, p. 10d; 22 Oct. 1902, p. 10b.
  • 25. LCC/MIN/12,741, 13 Nov. 1900 (3).
  • 26. Ibid., 11 Dec. 1903 (3).
  • 27. A. R. Bennett, Proposals for London Improvements, 1904: AR/CB/2/76, cuttings about Bennett's scheme from The Morning Leader (9 Jan. 1905), The Daily Mail (6 Jan. 1905), The Daily News (7 Jan. 1905), and The Sphere.
  • 28. A.C.R., 13 Jan. 1905, p. 32.
  • 29. Gibbon and Bell, pp. 234–8.
  • 30. LCC/MIN/10,385, 26 Feb. 1893 (1), report by Valuer.
  • 31. LCC Mins, 21 March 1893, pp. 329–30 (24/2).
  • 32. The Times, 15 July 1896, p. 10a.
  • 33. Sir Percy Harris, Forty Years in and out of Parliament, 1947, p. 50.
  • 34. LCC Mins, 25 Oct. 1898, p. 1215 (32).
  • 35. The Times, 15 Oct. 1902, p. 10e.
  • 36. Ibid., 22 Oct. 1902, p. 10b.
  • 37. LCC Mins, 9 Feb. 1904, pp. 149–50 (12).
  • 38. Arthur Cawston, Street Improvements in London, 1893, pp. 68–71.
  • 39. AR/CB/2/76, cutting from The Pall Mall Gazette, c. 1905.
  • 40. AR/CB/2/76, cutting from The Westminster Gazette, 29 Nov. 1904.
  • 41. LCC Mins, 26 Jan. 1909, p. 83 (25/21–2).
  • 42. Ibid., 18 June 1907, p. 1240 (16).
  • 43. The Westminster Gazette, 19 April 1905, p. 26: The Times, 19 April 1905, p. 12a.
  • 44. LCC Mins, 18 April 1905, pp. 1479–81 (18): London Municipal Notes, vol. 1, n.s., 6 May 1905, p. 141.
  • 45. GLRO, London County Buildings Bill 1906. Bills, Petitions, Minutes &c, and Evidence.
  • 46. Ibid., GLC L&P Deeds Docket No.38070. Agreement of Purchase – John Whately Simmonds & anor. and the LCC, 14 July 1905.
  • 47. LCC Mins, 10 Oct. 1905, p. 1156 (27/13); 19 Dec. p. 2264 (39/19).
  • 48. Ibid., 9 Oct. 1906, p. 714 (8).
  • 49. Survey of London, vol. xxiii, 1951, p. 62.
  • 50. J. Foster Petrie, 'Maudslay, Sons and Field as General Engineers', in Trans. of the Newcomen Society, vol. xv, 1936, pp. 39–61.
  • 51. Chas. E. Goad, Insurance Plan of London, vol. x, 1886.
  • 52. LCC Mins, 20 July 1909, p. 243 (27/12).
  • 53. Ibid., 9 Oct. 1906, p. 714 (28/8).
  • 54. The Builder, 10 June 1882, p. 723; 2 Dec. 1882, p. 714.
  • 55. LCC/MIN/4585, 5 April 1906 (16): LCC Mins, 24 July 1906, p. 368 (38/6).
  • 56. The Builder, 22 Oct. 1881, p. 512.
  • 57. Peter Brotherhood Catalogue c. 1920, (copy in the Science Museum Library): LCC Mins, 24 July 1906, p. 368 (38/6).
  • 58. GLRO, London County Buildings Bill 1906, evidence by Henry Holloway to House of Commons Committee, 30 April 1906.
  • 59. GLRO, London County Buildings Bill 1906. Evidence to the House of Commons Committee, 30 April 1906. House of Lords Committee, 26,27 June 1906: Patricia SpencerSilver, 'George Myers, 1803–75, Stonemason, Builder, Contractor', in Construction History, vol. 5, 1989, pp. 47–57.
  • 60. LCC Mins, 10 July 1906, p. 187 (39): GLRO, GLC L&P Deeds Docket No.38054. Arbitration award dated 28 March 1908.
  • 61. LCC Mins, 11 April 1922, p. 460 (16); 18 April 1905, p. 1478 (18).